What to know about what you don’t know you know. #1: Intuition is very efficient—if you don't overthink it.
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Freedom is not a novel concept. The Enlightenment and various social, political, economic, philosophical, and scientific developments led eventually over many decades to the increasing popularization in western cultures of freedom for more and more categories of people, or to all people, with the exception of lawbreakers who were found guilty of violent acts and children who have been judged to be immature and in need of adult control and management.
Freedom is not a fad or a great innovation that spontaneously or automatically spreads like wildfire because it is so inherently wonderful and beneficial to all. There is a constant tension between those who truly value freedom for more people or for all people, and those who have a strong inclination to restrict it for certain others. More than a few people see freedom for ordinary people as a great danger and as temptation that will inevitably be their downfall or be abused in some manner.
There are always pressures from many quarters to deny liberty and freedom to certain categories or to at least severely limit it in particular circumstances and to deny it to children or other captives and vulnerable groups. There is, and will always be, a continuing struggle for freedom. It takes real concerted effort and dedication to keep the idea and the reality of freedom alive in all places for all people.
If you poll groups of high school students and teens or recent graduates with the right questions, you are likely to find a high percentage who believe that they should be given much more liberty in deciding their own needs, capabilities, and rights to self-determination. They normally chafe under the control of strict parents, teachers, other authority figures or social norms.
However, should you drill down and ask more detailed questions about the ability of people generally, or about younger children, or about their peers to handle unrestricted freedom in most circumstances, I would be quite surprised if they didn’t lean quite heavily as a group towards a fairly strong belief in social and other controls over the population overall and particularly over young children. Paternalism runs deep. Fear of anarchy is nearly ubiquitous.
Children are bombarded from a very early age with both subtle and overt messages about the needs of all young people and of most members of society to have outside influences and external authorities to establish and maintain rules, restrictions, laws, standards, and “guidance” to channel their behavior and impulses and to place clear and rigid limits on their degree of freedom. While we “liberals” and those with an orientation toward maximum self-determination are averse to external control and authoritarian domination as a principle, even some of us typically make some significant exceptions. But we are in the minority when push comes to shove.
Conservatives most often err on the side of caution and restraint. That is certainly reasonable and in many instances even they may nevertheless recognize the benefits of autonomy for children in certain situations and environments. Unfortunately, the authentic thinking conservatives who exercise rationality have nearly all been superseded by reactionary individuals whose fear, apprehension, and bias against human nature cause them to strongly favor authoritarian leadership and blind obedience for the masses. They have a greatly perverted conception of conservatism. This is, more than anything else, the logical consequence of twelve years spent in authoritarian schools being reminded incessantly of their natural need for monitoring and close supervision along multiple dimensions as humans lacking civilization in some measure.
Compulsory attendance laws presume certain unproven facts and a certain disagreeable reality. The facile hope that the world (otherwise known as reality) will change because an application of freedom has been re-discovered anew and implemented “successfully” in a handful of locations is not just naïve; it is suicidal. The erroneous presumptions flowing from these laws are set in stone when they are obeyed and allowed to go unchallenged in any significant, overt, or effective manner. The expectation that these laws will become moot or anachronistic as a result of increasing awareness and the acceptance of scientific research or anecdotal reports is to ignore the underlying basis for the creation of the laws.
A suitable metaphor for what educators, reformers, and un-schoolers propose is difficult to find. If I have a painful burn on my left hand, would I place my right hand in ice and wait patiently for relief? Will making the proliferation of guns and gun violence be reduced by making it easier for people to buy guns and praying for the dead? Will a national epidemic of diabetes and obesity be meaningfully ameliorated by gently informing the public through public service ads that too much sugar is bad for them, while continuing to subsidize sugar production and allowing a barrage of TV ads heavily pushing sugary cereals to small children on the weekend cartoon shows? Will crime, homelessness, family disintegration, and poverty be reduced by lowering tax rates for the wealthy and multinational corporations and increasing taxes on working people? Have we all become Republicans?
An authoritarian bureaucracy mandated by unconstitutional laws is known to be the one crucial problem. Research is a weak balm that alleviates our own symptoms but doesn’t effect any cure. How is sitting on our hands, holding conferences, hunkering down in safe places with a handful of students, and proselytizing going to resolve that problem? How many centuries will it take for the tide to turn and for the undoing of powerful unconscious programming?
When Humpty-Trumpty repeats some dubious statement or theory over and over, those of us who took Psy 101 or those who know anything at all about human behavior should recognize that he is most probably trying (futilely) to convince himself of something that he wants to believe or needs quite desperately to believe, despite having a profound sense on some level that the proposition lacks veracity. He may even believe the lie, but probably knows better on some level. Rationalization serves a purpose for the person doing the rationalizing, which is to maintain one’s beliefs or conceptualizations, or in other words, to avoid the discomfort of cognitive dissonance.
I counted six specific instances, in addition to one whole restatement paragraph from this post which repeat and reinforce a general belief in the inevitability of a rosy projection for the future, which is counter-intuitive, to say the least. But, who actually needs to be convinced? Is it the reader, or might it be the author? I apologize for the comparison to the pathetic Mr. Trump. However the dynamic is basically the same – a case is made and repeated many times primarily to reassure the person promoting the idea of its accuracy, despite a lack of solid logic or reasons to expect the dream to become reality.
The essential idea is to dismantle deeply entrenched non-systems of human conduct and established ways of behaving and structuring relationships including social, economic, indoctrinational, and institutional relationships and hierarchies, which have developed over centuries. Persuasion, examples, and good PR or word of mouth are the ostensible motivators leading to changed minds and hearts.
When we speak of systems, i.e., “our coercive educational system”, we are framing the reality of patterns of organization and interaction, which are systematic in a broad sense, but which are not typically completely rational or systematized according to coherent or specific well-understood principles and designs. They combine longstanding tradition, mythology, unscientific theory, wishful thinking, and simple mistaken attribution. You can’t change what you can’t identify, see, or touch. Also, the same error is made in the post; those are school systems, they are by no stretch of the imagination educational systems.
It is worth asking, if the missionaries of tolerance, love, peace, reason, freedom, sanity, playfulness, science, and equality have had so few converts over the last century and longer, why should one expect them to transform our institutions and our habits with regard to schooling and education now, or anytime soon? And, if not soon, when? Or, why do we abandon today’s victims as if they were just collateral damage?
If, by some miracle the images and convictions held by a majority of people changed to reflect a preference for free schools or no schools, what is the likelihood that there would be no powerful pushback from the forces of intolerance and more rigid or controlling and demanding methods of instruction and indoctrination? If a way of life or a way of thinking is threatened, the usual response is to undermine the efforts of those who pose the threat. To date, the efforts of un-schoolers aren’t even perceived as a threat!
The cat will die in the bag before it scratches its way out. Why haven’t I given up yet? I can’t answer that.
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